When trying to find a metric to measure your story by, word count seems to be the go-to. That’s how you separate novellas from novels, flash fiction from short stories.
Too often, people get hung up on the length of their story, trying to pigeonhole it into a specific category.
But you know what?
Your story will tell you when it’s done. Whether it’s too long or too short for the category you wanted it to fit in, it’s done when it’s done.
Cutting the juicy bits so it can be submitted as a short story or adding a bunch of extra bullshit so you can call it a novel instead of a novella isn’t going to improve your book.
It just fucks up the story.
And the story is more important than what category it falls into.
If you primarily write standalones in a genre filled to the brim with series (First of all, if it’s fantasy romance, hit me up. I’m always looking for a standalone fantasy romance. Second of all, looks like we’re in the same boat.) that doesn’t mean that your books are less worthy. It doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. It doesn’t mean your books won’t sell.
It just means that your stories, to date, are not the norm.
And that isn’t a bad thing.
It just means marketing might be more difficult because each book is a bit of a blank slate, whereas marketing a series means that each successive book already has an audience that you can build upon.
But if you intentionally stretch a standalone into a series, adding fluff here and there, it’s going to detract from the overall quality.
Same goes for cutting stuff out specifically to slip it in under a word count threshold. The character you cut because they added one too many subplots might have been the character that provided relief for a dark story or the character that provided the edge necessary to offset an abundance of silliness.
They might have been the character readers would fall in love with.
Is that sacrifice really worth getting the story finished at a certain length?
Of course, add or cut things when you need to. If something needs more backstory, provide it. If something needs less exposition, get that shit outta there.
But don’t do it for the word count.
When I started writing The Regonia Chronicles, I intended it to be one book. Not a series with a prequel and everything. But then, it expanded to include a second alien race and three additional planets (It already had a couple).
Now, each time I sit down to work on it, it looks more and more likely that I’ll be splitting it into three books rather than two. Because that’s what the story needs. All that other stuff was necessary to make the original story idea make sense, I just didn’t know it when I started writing because I’m a pantser.
A Heart of Salt & Silver was intended to be a novella, but it blossomed into a novel.
Meanwhile, Second to None came in at half the word count that I thought it would.
And you know what that means?
It doesn’t mean that I didn’t fill enough pages or that I filled too many. It means that the story ended exactly where it needed to end.
It found its natural resolution.
Writing a good, solid story is far more important than meeting a specific word count. There’s an audience for every length of story within every genre. Some of those audiences hide better than others, but they’re there.
So stop stressing over word count and just write the damn story.
Do it the justice of letting it be the length it needs to be.
Keep reading. Keep writing.